Last stand for rooting against LeBron
Human nature is not always very flattering when you look in the mirror, and it’s obvious some of the visible wrinkles come from taking perverse pleasure in another man’s failures.
That other man is, in this case, LeBron James. It’s fairly obvious that I’m not
the only one cheering for his defeat.
The fact that I don’t care a lick about the NBA and haven’t watched a scant few
minutes since the closing seconds of the Dallas Mavericks delivering the final
delicious blow to LeBron’s dream-team hopes in 2011 isn’t the point. I barely
knew that Oklahoma City had stolen the Seattle SuperSonics and couldn’t identify
Kevin Durant if he were sitting across the breakfast table from me, but at the
moment I am among their biggest fans.
I do not know how many games the Miami Heat won this season or how many points
James averaged in what’s been reported was another slam-dunk MVP campaign. In
fact, I have never seen even one entire game played by the man some argue is the
most gifted all-around basketball player to ever roam the planet. I’ve heard
he’s quite good and seen a few impressive highlights.
Like many others, however, I subscribe to the school of thought delivered so
eloquently in an exchange in the movie “Bad Teacher,” which killed 90 minutes of
brain cells during a 16-hour flight but left this one takeaway that appeared in
all the trailers about who is the greatest basketball player.
Teacher: “Call me when LeBron has six championships.”
Student: “Is that your only argument?”
Teacher: “It’s the only argument I need!”
With the exception of Bill Russell fans, championship mettle is what frames the
argument for why Michael Jordan is the benchmark for which James so far falls
woefully short. And unless the Heat, leading 3-1, can do what every other NBA
team with this kind of lead has done and finish off the Thunder starting with Game 5
tonight, Jordan’s standard will remain safe at least until 2018.
Why James stands out with me the way Tiger Woods does to others or Muhammad Ali
to an earlier generation deserves an explanation. That he is singularly vilified
beyond dog-abuser Michael Vick – who carries in my eyes the mark of a Hokie that
is akin to being a Tiger for Gamecocks fans or a Gator to Bulldogs – took some
real doing on James’ part.
To me, LeBron represents everything worth loathing in a self-absorbed athlete.
Perhaps if he had gone to college for even one season and created an identity as
a Tar Heel or a Dookie or a Buckeye and pursued a title during March Madness, he
wouldn’t seem so self-centered. But he didn’t, and his persona is entrenched.
Honestly, that started back when James was in high school and he came to Atlanta
for an all-star game. A friend of mine at the Atlanta paper received an
unsolicited phone call from LeBron’s mother, who wished to inform him that the
teenage King had no comment on the eve of the game.
“But I didn’t ask him any questions,” my befuddled friend replied.
That one little story of a spoiled high school superstar told me all I ever
needed to know about LeBron. But despite that, he didn’t engender any hard
feelings while he was laboring for what was essentially his hometown Cleveland
Cavaliers. In fact, it was easy to root FOR the Cavs to win while James was its
rising homegrown star.
But then came “The Decision,” and James became a larger-than-life villain. It
wasn’t that he did what so many other free-agent stars did and left for another
team with what seemed like a better shot at winning a title. That’s fair and
What James did was rub Cleveland’s nose in it with a live, primetime special
announcing the divorce. And the phrase “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”
was an egomaniacal flourish. The fact that he colluded with other star “talents”
Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to assemble a so-called unbeatable alliance seemed to
fly in the face of sporting fairness.
It was at that moment that LeBron became public enemy athlete No. 1. The dislike
for him and the intense desire for his plan to fail even prompted me to watch
the dying minutes of several NBA playoff games last season. His fourth-quarter
failures against the Mavericks were as exquisite as watching the Hokies lose
another BCS game. It felt as good as a Gamecock watching last season’s Orange
A year later, the passion isn’t the same. Last year the Heat just had to lose or
the bad guys would win. It was that simple and the cheering interest was almost
manic. This year is more indifference. You can only harbor so much contempt for
But seeing James get away with an obvious foul in the closing seconds of Game 2
against the Thunder helped rekindle that guilty pleasure just a little bit.
The story is just better if LeBron keeps losing. Once he gets a ring, all the
fun of rooting against him will be gone and there may never be another reason to
watch the NBA even for a few seconds.
If the Thunder can rally it will feel like karmic justice again. And it would be
worth another unflattering wrinkle.